3 Reasons Why Internal Conflict Needs Your Attention

April 23, 2021
April 23, 2021 Jamie Notter

When I tell people that my background is in the field of conflict resolution and my current work is as a consultant to organizations, they assume that my schedule must be constantly full. After all, every organization has tons of conflict. The truth is, the number of organizations that NEED to be paying attention to conflict far outweighs the number that are. That has never been more true than right now. Here are the top 3 reasons you should increase your attention to your internal conflict issues.

1. Change is happening faster than ever. Do you remember a year ago when everyone figured out how to work remotely in about three weeks? You may have noticed that the pace of change hasn’t decreased much since then. If anything is the “new normal” it’s an environment of rapid and constant change, and here’s a super interesting fact from the analysis of our aggregate culture assessment data. The two questions in our survey that have the strongest correlation are:

  • We embrace change
  • We handle our internal conflict.

In other words, when people experienced their cultures as a place where change was embraced, then they were very likely to also experience it as one where conflict was handled rather than avoided. Similarly, when they felt like change was not embraced, they were likely to feel that conflict was not handled well. Coincidence? I think not.

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2. We’re hitting our cognitive load limit. A year after going all remote, your people are probably worn down and burned out. We’ve all upped our agility game, but without really fixing our agility problems in the first place, which means we’re exhausted. Our brains can’t handle any more. And when we hit that point, adding on a layer of unresolved conflict in your office, where you have to do end-runs around a department because you don’t want to confront your nemesis there—that can push us to the breaking point. Dealing with conflict reduces the number of things you need to think about, which is critical now.

3. Avoiding conflict is the reason teams ignore results. This was the finding of Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team years ago. So pandemic or no pandemic, if your teams avoid their conflict, then they’re not going to commit to the follow through from the meeting. Once you realize no one’s committing, then no one really attempts to hold people accountable (because they wouldn’t want to be held accountable either). Once accountability is out the window, people look inward and make sure their own butts are covered, but they ignore the results of the team. If you want a results focus, then handle your conflict.

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The good news is, we can help with all this. I’ve been doing conflict resolution training since the 1990s, and I’ve put it into an online course now that you can run for your whole team, including live Q&A with me via zoom at three different points during the course, so it feels more like an in-person course even though people can do most of the modules at their own pace, online. And for teams that are really, REALLY stuck, I can do a direct intervention where I facilitate the team through a simple process where they start to solve their own problems.

You can take a quick look at the course here, and contact me directly if you need the direct intervention.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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